I read an article today written by a bikini competitor about competing. Whilst it was well written, I dispute everything that was said in it. It was on the “realities of competing” and what it is like to be a competitor. And it was clear to me that this persons’ coach is stuck in the past and still set on using out-dated protocols.
There still seems to be an abundance of “bro” prep coaches and competitors out there. This, even after all of the information that has recently come out about competing in a healthier way, is pretty concerning. I was under the impression that we were making progress here, and that asparagus and chicken diets were slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past. But apparently I was wrong.
Here’s the thing about competing. It takes a certain type of person to compete. It is hard and you have to make sacrifices; it isn’t necessarily for the faint hearted. Is it healthy? Not in the final stages of prep, not really. BUT can it be done in a healthier way that doesn’t wreck your metabolism, your relationship with food, or your sanity? Absolutely.
Contrary to popular belief comp prep doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. It doesn’t have to consist of a restrictive diet and countless hours at the gym. Nor does it have to mean fasted cardio, or even any more than 2-3 short HIIT cardio sessions per week in most cases.
If you are in comp prep mode, and you are performing cardio on the daily then you are DOING IT WRONG. Not only is excess cardio unnecessary, it can also be detrimental to results and cause issues with metabolism and hormones. Not to mention the time it takes. Work smarter AND harder (you still have to work hard to compete) but a 20 min HIIT session albeit a lot more intense and difficult than LISS, is a far more beneficial use of your time. You get more out of it, you burn more after the fact, and it leaves you with at least a spare 40 mins that you wouldn’t have if you were to try and burn the same amount with LISS.
If you are limited to a list of less than 10 different foods then you are also DOING IT WRONG. If your diet consists of egg whites, asparagus, oats (if you’re lucky) protein shakes, and the disgusting TILAPIA (#gutterfish) then unfortunately you are on what is considered a “bro” diet. You are unnecessarily restricting yourself, your coach is a moron and you are DOING IT WRONG.
If you are on a severely restrictive diet like the above you will be seriously lacking in essential vitamins and minerals. Iron levels will most likely be extremely low due to lack of red meat. It’s also apparently still common to cut out sodium, another mineral which contrary to popular belief isn’t “bad”. You lose sodium when you sweat/exercise, and not having adequate amounts of it can affect blood pressure, and muscle and nerve functionality.
Here’s another thing. Fish doesn’t “thin the skin” protein is protein, and a calorie deficit is a calorie deficit. No matter where you get your protein fats or carbs from, you will still get the same end result if your macro breakdown and therefore overall calorie intake is the same.
If you are in comp prep, and you cannot tell someone how many calories you are on a day then that is a pretty big concern. What is an even bigger concern is the fact that calories will most likely be extremely low, around the 1000 a day mark. If proper work is done in the off season, and depending on the individual, then a calorie intake this low is most definitely not necessary. If you have to cut cals this low to get lean, (and aren’t 4’0” tall) then you have not done enough work in the off season and shouldn’t be competing IMO. If cals are this low and you are more than 1-2 weeks out, then you shouldn’t be competing. I have heard of women consuming 1200 calories a day when they are not even on prep! This is insane! Been there, done that, never again.
Of course there are extreme circumstances where calories may need to be dropped to a lower than ideal amount in the final stages, but this is to be expected and is only ever very temporary. The body fat levels required for competing are not normal, and it is not sustainable or realistic to expect to stay comp lean all year round. Unless you are not natural. Which is a whole other conversation again.
The thing with competing is that you have to love it. It is a lifestyle. And while it is a nice by-product having the lean body at the end of it, the competition day itself is the smallest part of it all. Off season is so important. This is when the hard work is done. This is when you still have to train, week in and week out even when you don’t feel like it. Being tired, sore, or just not feeling it doesn’t cut it and the work outs you do now, especially the ones when you aren’t necessarily in the mood, they are the important ones. They are what make the difference when you finally step on that stage.
Having appropriate time off season to build, and work on metabolism will mean a much nicer and more manageable prep. Taking your time to diet down slowly will mean less muscle lost, and a more enjoyable experience overall. Yes competing is difficult. Being in the calorie deficit that is required to lose fat isn’t fun, but it doesn’t have to be horrible. Competing doesn’t have to mean you do not have a social life. If you are taking tuppaware containers to social events, then you are DOING IT WRONG. Yes things need to be very accurately weighed and measured during your prep, but unless you are in the final few weeks then you should still be able to work around these things, and enjoy a meal out with friends once in a while. Consistency is what gets results. If you are continually guesstimating meals and eating dinners out, then your results will show this. If it is every now and then, it should not be an issue. One bad meal will not ruin everything, and if your coach says it will then find a new one.
Does competing need to mean you don’t have a social life? No. Does competing mean you have to make sacrifices? Yes. But it does it have to be at the expense of living a normal life? No. Competing does not have to take over. Of course you will train more than the average person, and some people wont necessarily understand this “obsession” but hey they probably have an “obsession” with binge drinking every other weekend. Good for them.
Finding a balance and making this work with your lifestyle is absolutely possible. I personally wouldn’t usually include alcohol during a prep because IMO it is a waste of calories that would be of a better use for my body. Off season is a different story, and it is easy to work around this and fit a few drinks in now and then. Or more. You just need to account for it. This is key. Balance. There is more to life than god damn chicken and asparagus. There is more to life than suffering EVEN if you want to compete. It is entirely possible to compete, and be less extreme with your diet, and include all the foods YOU like rather than an abysmal list of bland, boring foods. It is possible to eat chocolate during prep. It is possible to do little to no cardio during prep. It is still hard work, and takes dedication but competing does not mean you have to literally starve yourself and have a miserable time during the process.